An Alameda County judge has issued a temporary restraining order requiring the Oakland City Council to reopen public access to the second-floor galleries overlooking the council chambers.
The balconies had been closed for two months, after over 75 peaceful demonstrators took over the City Council chambers to prevent the council from voting to sell public land on East 12th Street near Lake Merritt to a developer to build a luxury apartment tower.
The city administration’s move to lock the galleries drastically decreased the number of people who could physically attend and participate in council meetings.
Once the council chambers had filled up, those attending were forced to wait in overflow rooms if they planned to speak, watching the meeting on television screens.
Many members of the public spoke at council meetings, expressing outrage at the closing of the galleries, arguing that the city was illegally reducing public space in violation of Oakland’s Sunshine Ordinance and the Brown Act.
“This is the house of the people,” and the city has no right to keep the public out, said community activist James Vann, speaking at a recent council meeting.
City officials cited safety concerns as their reason for restricting the public’s access to the upper-level galleries. But the excuse did not appear to carry much weight with the judge or the public.
Prior to the judge’s ruling, Councilmembers Desley Brooks and Rebecca Kaplan had spoken out against the restriction.
The decision to close the galleries was made by city staff, according to Kaplan, and was never discussed or approved by the council, she said.
“It was the administration’s idea,” said Kaplan. “I never supported it.”
“There was never a vote of the City Council,” she said, “but now a judge has ruled, and it’s not up to City Hall.”